“Love Letters,” a play featuring two characters sitting side by side, reading letters that detail the course of their lives for over 50 years, walks you through the trials and tribulations we all encounter. Originally performed in Los Angeles, produced by voice actress Grey DeLisle, the play stars Courtney R. Hall and April Stewart, all of whom I met in college after graduating from Justin-Siena. They have joined forces with NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, to evolve the production into a fundraiser. While I initially attended the performance to support my friends, I returned with true healing and sense of purpose. NAMI and the Michael Leonardi Foundation share a common goal: to stop the stigma surrounding mental illness. In the case of the Michael Leonardi Foundation, this also involves raising awareness about fentanyl poisoning--I have learned the two often go hand in hand.
My son Kellan lost two friends to fentanyl. First Michael Leonardi, and then last summer, Kellan’s roommate and dear friend, Jacob. As a mother, I am heartbroken and terrified. Recognizing it could have been Kellan, finding any solace in a loss this tragic is difficult at best. Comforting my child who lost his best friend was close to impossible. I attended meetings, events, and seminars simply to sit behind women like Michael’s mother, Mona, who are fighting so hard to get this drug off of the streets and hold criminals accountable. Kellan has joined me and we have learned a lot. When Mona said simply in one of her speeches, “We need people to get loud,” I knew what I needed to do.
I joined forces with Justin-Siena and the Michael Leonardi Foundation to bring the play to Napa. When I heard the words, “Get loud,” I decided to add a music portion to the evening as both of the boys we lost were musicians. We decided to call the event “Let’s Get Loud!” So let’s do just that! Let’s get loud, really loud! Let’s end the stigma of mental illness and end the stigma of fentanyl poisoning. Many people suffer in silence with a form of mental illness that causes extreme pain. Admitting personal struggles can be overwhelming, but I believe most people have experienced mental illness in some form, whether a family member or themselves, myself included. We are in a position to change the script.
My hopes are to prompt increased awareness and discussion; for audience members to recognize the shared responsibility the fentanyl crisis is; and ultimately to eliminate fentanyl poisoning in our community and beyond.”